(Dark Horse Comics, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
WRITTEN BY: Gerard Way & Shaun Simon
ARTWORK BY: Becky Cloonan
COLOR ARTWORK BY: Dan Jackson
Gerard Way, former lead singer of the now defunct emo-metal band My Chemical Romance, is not a bad comic book writer; in fact he’s pretty darned good. In the aftermath of his band’s demise he proves that his success with The Umbrella Academy was no fluke by following it up five years later with the equally well written True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. This time he shares the writing credit with Shaun Simon.
The story is loosely spun out of the concepts presented in MCR’s last CD, Danger Days however it is by no means mandatory that you be familiar with the music to follow the comic. Some of Becky Cloonan’s imagery does harken back to the videos for the Danger Days songs but there is no true narrative or plot that follows through to tie the works together. I would go so far as to say that one does not even need to be aware of the band at all to appreciate the comic book.
The Killjoys were a team of heroes who were killed in a battle with the evil empire of Battery City. They were followed around by a nameless young girl who survived the bloody conflict. Although she was never officially a member of The Killjoys she did enjoy their protection and camaraderie right up until the end. What follows is the account of her post-war life as she wanders the desert with her cat.
The story begins with a DJ spouting post-apocalyptic bee bop poetry that is like Jack Kerouac meets Grant Morrison. The words are alive and vivacious with a rhythm that is musical. The girl and her cat wake up in the middle of the desert; the ground is strewn with sleeping bags. She grabs her radio to keep the DJ and his infectious poetry with her on her travels. Becky Cloonan does a decent job of rendering a bleak and desolate landscape though her style is a bit too cartoony and the subject matter is far darker than her artwork would convey. I didn’t think she was the best choice for this book but by the end of the first issue I was won over.
The girl’s first encounter with a group of young Killjoy followers is in a dilapidated roadside motel. They are more than loosely based on the look of the members of MCR as they appeared at the time of the Danger Days videos; unnaturally colored choppy hair-dos, Road Warrior style attire and futuristic plastic ray guns included. They are interested in obtaining a mask that the girl has just traded her dinner for. They believe that it belonged to one of the real Killjoys named Poison. When they catch up to her they recognize her as the girl who followed The Killjoys. The conversation is cut short when four Draculoids show up ready to fight. Draculoids are vampire mask wearing weirdoes who roam the desert converting those unlucky enough to fall into their clutches into more Draculoids. These events are indicative of the problems that have arisen since the demise of the Killjoys and though the band of Killjoy followers are more than willing to fill their shoes, there seems to be too much dissension in their ranks to make any real difference.
Next we are introduced to two sex workers aptly named for their hair color; Red and Blue. They live in the slums of Battery City which in contrast to the vivid colors of the desert are dreary and monochromatic. The monolithic buildings stretch to the grey skies overhead lit only by the garish neon signs.
Everything seems to exist in the shadow of Better Living Industries headquarters. They are the faceless evil that permeates the world at this time, the B.L.I. agents even wear nondescript masks to hide their identities and like the dismal façade of Battery City they dress in somber shades.
Way is heavily influenced by Grant Morrison (and that is in no way a bad thing) and that comes across even more so here than it did in the Umbrella Academy stories. He uses words and phrases leaving it up to us to figure out what they mean without any prior explanation by use of context clues and nebulous conjectures. I didn’t find this problematic in the least quite to the contrary I found the writing to be exciting and engrossing. I found the use of unfamiliar slang reminiscent of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Way and Simon have created and populated an intriguing new world; a world like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a world in need of heroes, they spend scarce few words on set up opting to let the reader figure it out on the fly. But here again this unorthodox approach works.
Dan Jackson paints the town (or rather the desert) red… and blue and orange and every other color in the spectrum. His vivid hues bring Becky Cloonan’s costume designs and landscapes to life. Cloonan’s cartoon style is at first rather incongruous with the grim subject matter but as the story unfolds it suits the tale rather nicely, almost in the way of dark anime. In the end Cloonan gives this book both visual style and lasting effect.
There isn’t another book like Killjoys on the racks today. It’s fresh and innovative both visually and textually. Although Way’s influences may be obvious this book is far from derivative. I would recommend that you grab the first issue while you can and add it to your pull list post haste. All things considered I would give Way and Company a solid 4.25 with only minor detractions keeping it from a 5 in my opinion. So until next time, see you at the comic book store.
Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter: @shawnwarner629